Bare-chested; leering, sneering and smirking at the boppers in the front rows, he was Bon Scott-lite. He could strut with the best of them and out lived them all – Bon, Freddie, Hutchence – and is now a granddad. Unlike those three, though, his flame passed quickly and these days he has a quiet existence in regional Victoria, developing board games and believe it or not, for an old rocker, running an embroidery business.
For a time he and his band were a mainstay on ‘Countdown’, also achieving some late recognition this millennium with revival tours. Linked with that iconic show, they reminded rock lovers of my age what we all were doing at six o’clock of a Sunday eve back in the day.
I was a young teacher then. You could be sure that, at any school social, his two signature hits, both covers, could be, along with ‘Nutbush’ and ‘The Time Warp’, assured of getting every kid in the room up and gyrating. ‘Boney Maroney’ and ‘Glad All Over’ rocked out of ‘Countdown’ as well and he even compered the show once or twice. He and the lads were the gaudiest glam-rock crew on the screen, but sadly they were mostly gimmick, little substance. They, though, intrigued me as his two guitarists were both of Asian appearance. One, Les Gock, went on to have a successful career producing in the music industry, as well as working in advertising. If you follow the NRL, he wrote the Canberra Raiders team song.
But it was Keith Lamb who, as the smarmy vocalist, was the focus of the band Hush. Like many of the stars of the local industry during its formative years, his family were ten pound Poms, arriving in Oz in 1970. By mid decade he was riding high in the charts and Hush had the honour of appearing on the first Countdown of the colour era – and they certainly dressed for the occasion. For a while they toured the country frenetically, playing to audiences of a few dozen in country halls to thousands in the big city venues. Grinding out a playlist of sure things, they fired up the punters, getting them on their feet like my North Western Tassie youngsters. I wonder if they ever came our way? And of course, for a taste of the action these local versions of Slade produced, you can find them in all their now faded glory on YouTube. It brings back memories.
And on that internet platform you’ll also find another Aussie legend from almost a decade before, fronting ‘Somebody’s Image’. Just look at him – so baby-faced compared to the grizzled bluesman that he is, today, in the third incarnation of Russell Morris’ career. In those early years the band was taken under their wings by modern times’ national treasures Brian Cadd and Molly Meldrum; Cadd, playing in prominent band ‘The Groop’ and Molly, working for ‘Go-Set’ magazine. The latter lauded them in his columns, enabling them to garner a recording contract. Mr Meldrum famously later produced ‘The Real Thing’ and other hits for Russell during his second coming. I remember his earlier outfit performing their solitary chart success on national tele. They peaked too late for ‘The Go Show’, so it must have been on that Saturday morning institution, Ross De Wylie’s ‘Uptight’.
Now originally this piece was going to be solely about an earlier musical hero of mine who, like Hush and Somebody’s Image, only had the briefest instant of fame in the spotlight, this time in the US. Recently I connected his link to Mr Morris’s first hit. This guy’s name was Joe South and he wrote said song – it’s name, ‘Hush’.
I had his Greatest Hits album, together with, I suspect, other releases by him. In reality he only had the one chart topper under his own steam, but maybe you’ll recall some of the other ditties he was responsible for, apart from ‘Hush’. Remember ‘Rose Garden’. It was a monster for Lynn Anderson. ‘Down in the Boondocks’ went global for Billy Joe Royal. Many, many, including Elvis, recorded ‘Walk a Mile in My Shoes’. Brook Benton charted with ‘Don’t it Want to Make You Want to Go Home’. The greats of the time all recorded Joe South songs – Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Dolly Parton, James Taylor and dozens more. ‘Hush’ was also Deep Purple’s first charting song in America.
Now, cast your mind back to Tommy Roe’s single ‘Sheila’ if you can. It was South’s guitar you can hear on that, as well as on many of the tracks on His Bobness’ ‘Blonde on Blonde’. Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ album also showcased his plucking. South was some guitar picker and that is how he got his start in the music business – as a studio sideman. And his solo hit? ‘The Games People Play’. With that he was popular on the touring circuit for a while, but it didn’t last. He could write for others, but nothing else connected with the public for himself. He did have the voice – I loved it. So what happened? He had come close, so close with that Grammy-winning hit, and then he faded away.
Turns out his brother Tommy’s suicide in 1971 hit him for six. Tommy was his constant companion and a member of his backing band. Joe became clinically depressed as a result, so he did what countless others did back in that era when the black dog came calling – turned to grog and pills. South started not turning up for gigs; many performances were shambolic. He was eventually spurned by promoters. For a while he escaped to Hawaii to try and bat away his woes. Eventually a good woman came into his life and got him going. He started writing songs again and made the occasional public appearance, but his time had passed. With his back catalogue and the royalties it produced he didn’t need to push himself. Joe passed in 2012, outliving his wife Jan by a decade or more. His only offspring, Craig, in turn recently produced a son, whom he named Joseph in memory. Nice touch.
I no longer have that Joe South vinyl album. Who knew those relics would make such a come back. The grooves on it would have been pretty worn out in any case. It was frequently on my turntable back in the 70s, but
Oh, the Games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say
Never saying what they mean
is as true today as it ever was. Hush.
Hush on Countdown = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izNjVAOnbdQ
Somebody’s image – ‘Hush’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HukWnEnigY
Joe South performing ‘The Games People Play’ = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WJmg9xCukM